Posted on May 3, 2019
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Posted on May 3, 2019

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16 0
Reading time: 5 min
8.6km

Distance

4 hours

Time

1057m

Ascent

1661m

Highest point

8/10

Difficulty

Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Mar-Apr

Best season

Rausu-dake (羅臼岳, 1661m), is in the heart of the Shiretoko Peninsula in eastern Hokkaido, a World Heritage site. The mountain happens to have a prominent couloir on its southwestern flanks. In Japanese it is called the Rausu-dake Nansei Runze (羅臼岳南西ルンゼ), and it has somewhat of a cult fame to it. With an average slope angle of just under 50 degrees over a distance of just over 1km (600m vertical), it is well and truly the antidote to everyone's "there's no steeps in Hokkaido" woes. Expect massive views across both the Pacific Ocean and the Okhosk Sea, with vast quantities of mobile sea ice. Favourable weather conditions are relatively rare in the deep winter months, so we recommend the more stable March and April for attempts on Rausu-dake. We also recommend splitting the long approach up the closed Shiretoko Pass road by staying at the basic but comfortable Aizanso Hut. This route will require the use of boot crampons and ice-axe.

Last updated Jul 20, 2019

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

This route description assumes you’re starting from the Aizanso Hut, here, 7km up the closed Shiretoko Pass from the Shiretoko Nature Center on the Utoro (western) side of the peninsula. Rausu-dake itself is a large stratovolcano located at the center of the Shiretoko Peninsula in eastern Hokkaido.

General notes

Rausu-dake is a tough nut to crack in winter. There are less hair-raising approaches from the east or west following the summer hiking trails, but these will require a good solid 10 hours or so for the return trip, with camping the only option if wishing to make it into an overnight trip. Furthermore, the western approach from the Kinoshita Hut (here, locked and not available for stays in winter) is only practical in May after the road up to the hut has opened. That leaves the direct approach from the south via the Southwest Couloir, made less painful if made into an overnighter, staying at the Aizanso Hut.

Despite its popularity, this route via the Southwest Couloir is, however, the steepest of the options available. Expect slopes of over 50 degrees in places, with a sustained average of just under 50 degrees. Furthermore, the snow can be rime/ice from as low as 900m in altitude, well below the actual entrance of this large couloir at around 1200m. In all but the most miraculous of perfect conditions, you’ll need to assume the use of boot crampons and ice axe on the upper portions of the route.

Hut

Aizanso Hut (full details here)

The Aizanso Hut (愛山荘) is a well-loved two-story hut built, maintained, and funded by the Abashiri Alpine Club (網走山岳会). It is located near the top of the Shiretoko Pass, on the Utoro side, about 7km up the pass from the Shiretoko Nature Center. It is only accessible by foot in winter – the Shiretoko Pass is closed until April. Its location begs it to be used as a base to explore nearby peaks such as the impressive Rausu-dake (羅臼岳, 1660m) or Chinishibetsu-dake (知西別岳, 1315m). It is a fully volunteer-run hut, so relies on hut fee donations from users of around 1000yen per night.

Route markers

This route is not marked. From Aizanso Hut, carry on up the pass following the main road to around 630m. Climb up off the road, and follow a tributary to the Akai-kawa river eastwards. If snow conditions are favourable, kick-turn your way directly up to the sloping plateau on Rausu’s southern flanks. If this slope is icy, then say your prayers, because the couloir is likely to be twice as bad. In this case, it is more practical to carry on wrapping around, following the tributary to a gentle sloping approach via a marsh with well-spaced trees. Once on the main southern plateau, it is simply a matter of heading up, switching to crampons when necessary. An ice-axe is essential for self-arrest.

Route Timing
Up | 3hrs
Down | 1hrs

Bank on around 3-4 hours from hut to summit, and another 1 hour back to the hut on the descent.

Transport

Public transport:

The Shiretoko Nature Center (here) is accessible in winter by public bus from the Utoro Michi-no-eki four times a day. The trip will take about 15 minutes. See the timetable here. To get to Utoro, there are regular buses from either Abashiri or Shari. From the Shiretoko Nature Center, it is 7km (about 2 hours) on foot to the Aizanso Hut, up the Shiretoko Pass road.

By car: 

There is ample parking at the Shiretoko Nature Center here. From the Shiretoko Nature Center, it is 7km (about 2 hours) on foot to the Aizanso Hut, up the Shiretoko Pass road.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Shiretoko Toge (知床峠) – map no. NL-55-30-16-4

NOTE: The official 1/25000 topo map(s) above can be purchased for 350yen from Kinokuniya bookstore next to Sapporo Station or online (in Japanese).

Snow and route safety

The couloir is steep, exposed to the elements, and very often icy. While not necessarily requiring ropes, climbers should know how to self-arrest in the case of a fall. The weather on the Shiretoko Peninsula is often windy, with low visibility. Keep plans and expectations conservative, and be willing to turn back in the case of bad weather.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Rausu-dake
Onsen nearby

The Yuhidai Onsen in Utoro (here, 500yen) is the pick of the bunch for its sunset views from the outdoor baths.

Extra Resources
  • A write-up in English, with photos, by Ski Descent here. May everyone always have weather like they did!
  • A write-up (in Japanese) with photos, here.

Guide Options

If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore other areas of Eastern Hokkaido or Shiretoko together with a local certified guide, get in touch with Takao Miyashita. He’s a born-and-bred Hokkaido-based guide. From a young age he cut his teeth on peaks including those in far eastern Hokkaido. He has multiple 6,000m-plus peak international expeditions under his belt (including a ski descent from 7,400m on Mt. Manaslu, Nepal). He is one of the leading senior figures in the local guiding and outdoor associations here in Hokkaido and Japan

Photo Gallery

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

We never made it to the top of Rausu-dake, nor anywhere near the summit. A large cliff-like boulder, here just below the couloir, was as far as we’d go after battling strong wind, low visibility, icy surfaces, and even sitting in a snow-hole for 2 hours waiting for a forecasted break in the weather. In the weeks leading up to the trip, we’d dreamed of weather and conditions like this, but it was not to be. we cut our losses, and made do with the satisfaction of staying in one of Hokkaido’s easternmost mountain huts.

We’d skinned up from the Shiretoko Nature Center to the Aizanso Hut the previous day. The road crews were already almost at the top of the pass, getting the road cleared ready for the public in late April. It must be a huge undertaking to get the road ready, after meters upon meters of snowfall.

We settled in for a quiet night of stoking the fire, eating, and reading the retro mountain gear catalogues from the late 1980’s.

We knew from the previous day’s forecast that our summit attempt day was going to be pea soup. 100km/hr gusts were forecast for the early morning, with a decent amount of snowfall too. The afternoon’s cloud cover forecast on Windy.com was for the same as the morning – low and thick. But from around 2pm the wind and snow was supposed to die down considerably. So we delayed our departure from the hut to 10am.

A number of coffees later, we dragged ourselves into the brisk wind, and started on our way up the mountain. It was dark and overcast, but the cloud cover was just high enough to allow a view northwest to the coast, where some whisps of sea ice still remained. We weren’t too confident of our chances at reaching the summit, but if we could get a glimpse of the couloir, that’d be nice.

It was quite the curious sensation skinning up a pass that Haidee and I had on a number of occasions cycled across. Once in dismal rain and wind, and once in glorious sunshine, where we actually had magnificent views of Rausu-dake and the Southwest Couloir, albiet in summertime.

From the road we started up the narrow gully, and soon made the decision to gain our altitude gradually along the stream’s wide plateau, rather than try to zig-zag up the icy face above the road. We’d already switched to ski crampons…this was not a particularly promising start. The ice-caked shrub lands were beautiful though, and almost completely void of wind.

We’d only been on the skis for less than 2 hours when we decided to stop for a long break, to give the weather a chance to clear up. It was almost noon, and time for lunch anyway. I dug a two-person snow hole to get us out of the wind, and this kept us snug for a restful two hours or so. Thank modern technology for the invention of the insulated water bottle! (And thick down parkas).

Quentin finally dragged me out of hole at 2pm, for a final blat up the slope to see what we could see. We saw not much of anything at all. Only a decent amount of exposed haimatsu low pines, rimed icy slopes, and a foggy 50m visibility. We fought the good fight, and after far too many icy traverses where only the ski crampons were making purchase, we decided to pull the plug. It was almost 4pm anyway, and we’d soon be losing light. The plan was to return to the Nature Center today, so even if we got back to the hut with daylight remaining, we’d certainly be skiing down the road in the dark.

We found a relatively safe flat patch of wind-blown snow at the base of a large cliff-like boulder, and wrestled with our skins in the wind. Survival skiing ensued, trying to dodge the lurking pines as we scraped and rattled across the frozen surface.

We got back to the hut safe and sound, and scoffed some food before starting the 7km dusk and then night descent back to the car. We both risked skiing on the road, which had perhaps 2cm of fresh powdery snow on the surface. Sharks lurked, however, and I pulled a muscle trying to stop myself on more than one occasion being lurched into the blacktop. The hostel in Utoro was a sight for sore eyes, as was the onsen soak after a hairy two days on the mountain.

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Comments | Queries | Reports

Done this route to Rausu-dake, or others nearby? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback, reports, or queries here. Thanks!

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